Hannah Geurkink, Alya Yumrukçal

Rooted Reflections

A conversation with Alaa Abu Asad, Asli Hatipoglu, and Uno Fujisawa

In their preparation for the 17th edition of the Neo Futurist Dinner “Knots, Weeds & Roots”, I sat down with artists Alaa, Asli, and Uno in order to discuss a bit more about what they have planned for this dinner. The dinner will take place from the 8th until the 19th of May and will be related to Japanese knotweed. 


Alaa, Uno, Asli -

Alaa Abu Asad’s work is mainly about plants and language and the relationships between the two. When it comes to plants, he focuses on invasive species, mainly working with the Japanese knotweed plant.

Asli Hatipoglu is a multidisciplinary artist who works with a variety of mediums. Food is one of the main tools that she uses in her practice, diving into ancestral practices to understand how people can connect to them in today’s fast paced world. “It reflects a lot about identity, not only just what we wear, but also how we feel.” Asli says.

Uno Fujiisawa is an artist and chef. Her artistic works are rooted in the exploration of eating as an everyday ritual. Her practice starts from eating. She claims to be always thinking about eating and the actions coming from it. “When I cook, my thoughts go beyond the food. Who made it? Where did it originate?” She thinks about the interconnectedness of life and the way that it is a perpetual cycle. Eating is not only taking nutrition to the body, there is more behind it. Once you know about the story, then you feel different, your body reacts in a different way. In her work, she aims to bring this feeling of interconnectedness to people in a different way, eating for a stronger connection between nature and people. 

The three first met last year at the Japanese Knotweed Festival, which was a month-long festival focusing on the invasive plant, Japanese Knotweed held here at Mediamatic. They were invited to collaborate together to create  the 2023 Freedom Meal, a dinner about Japanese Knotweed. This dinner included reflections on the legal applications, property rights, and connotations put on the Japanese knotweed. For this event,  they cooked recipes from different places,  focusing on Japanese Knotweed. The plant was brought with several other plants to Europe, and many of them are well-celebrated in gardens today. Their aim was to show that the Japanese knotweed was not the only main character in this history. Despite this, the Japanese knotweed has been labelled as one of the most invasive species in Europe and North America. 

This year’s project is an evolution of the experience from last year. The main focus will be on showing the harmony between the Japanese knotweed and other plants that can share the soil together, as well as on the different strata of the soil. What is growing underneath ground, but also what is growing above the ground. And how these two different worlds can somehow meet, cross, or collide and be translated into the menu of the dinner. 

Both Asli and Uno express what an amazing storyteller Alaa is. 

“When he's telling stories, Uno and I already have some ideas about how to translate them into other things. Not only the food, but also the experiences.” - Asli

The conversation extended beyond plants, delving into questions about the definition of invasiveness and borders. Even when humans try to cooperate with each other, such efforts are not always met with positive responses. 

If you immerse yourself in the story of the Japanese knotweed, you think that the plant is special. But then, Asli and Uno asked questions that Alaa would never have thought of. What makes the plant so special? At that time, why did people even want to bring it or appreciate its appearance. It could be considered a very generic, banal plant. This led them to begin to question what words such as exotic, beauty, and aesthetic mean, and how we judge things in today's world from different perspectives. They aim to also bring consideration of such questions to visitors and allow them to delve into such questions and think about how to answer them, while at the same time reflecting upon the fact that we have different perspectives on these questions themselves.

The dinner will  follow the life  cycle of the plant, through seven phases , starting from the roots or the rhizome material, which is a network connection underneath the ground. It then goes to the stems. From the stems moving to the leaves. After the leaves come the flowers and then the seeds and the seeds fly again, spreading, and making new plants. It is important to note here, that the living cycle of the plant is incomplete in Europe and the seeds cannot germinate in nature. 

During the dinner, there will also be a focus on the understanding of eating as an event rather than something just to satisfy your hunger. The aim is to make visitors change the way they look at both the invasive species, whether Japanese knotweed or not, and weeds that grow around them and their environment.

“If you're eating the plant, it becomes part of the cycle. We contribute to the cycle. We contribute to the living cycle of the plant, basically by eating it.” - Uno

“Or spreading it, or harvesting it, or sharing the seeds, etc.” - Alaa


Knots, Weeds & Roots - Test Dinner - Jada Maij

As Asli explains, when it comes to plants, nothing is random. Everything is influenced by something else. It's all connected. At the same time, there is also a question of what is native, and what is not native? There is no such thing as a root to nativeness. However, when the climate changes and the soil is fertile, growth happens. Plants are also moved a lot by humans. We are all influenced by one thing or another. The dinner is supposed to shed light on and draw attention to this fact.

“It's very complex, these systems, and it's very difficult to control something. Are we trying to promote eating Japanese knotweed? No. But we're trying to use it to say something greater.” - Uno 

While none of the three artists are vegan themselves, the dinner will of course be vegan. In relation to this, the three express the appreciation they have towards food and how important this is. We should not simply eat food, but also appreciate it. 

“Focus on what you are eating and be grateful, basically. Be present in the moment.” - Uno 

Veganism is a big topic though. Asli usually cooks both vegan and gluten-free for the events that she curates. She expresses that the topic is deeper than simply being about the foods that we do or do not eat. It also goes into the ways in which veganism is promoted these days. There are a lot of  processed vegan foods being made, going into fast food culture. The way of eating, as Uno said, is super important, but also how things are processed. Eating is not just about consuming and filling the hunger. It is about getting to be together, cooking together or sharing knowledge together. These are deep elements of the eating experience itself, as both artists express. Appreciation of every part of the vegetable and every part of the plant is also important along with finding ways to eat them. 

“When I cook, I always think about who I can feed it to or who I can share it with. I don't normally think about just cooking for myself and eating it. It's also about value. Sometimes I spend two hours cooking for myself and my friends think that I'm crazy. But I don't see the cooking time as only for physically feeding people. I see the cooking time as something else. It's a time to meditate, to be with oneself, to imagine, and to fantasise about plants. It is a moment to connect to the present time because time can only be a limitation when you see it as the goal that needs to be reached. If you're cooking because you need to eat to fill this immediate hunger, then the whole cooking experience is already gone.” - Asli

This raises the question of how can we take responsibility for the food we consume? Moreover, the ways in which we prepare our meals and the crucial role that this plays. Often, due to time constraints, we opt for pre-prepared food. However, when we take the time to prepare our meals, it prompts us to think more deeply about the ingredients, as well as the plants and animals around us. This shift in perception can lead to a greater appreciation and understanding of the food we eat.

This upcoming Neo Futurist Dinner about Japanese Knotweed aims to offer a thought provoking experience about our relationship with plants, food, the environment, and one another. Through the collaborative efforts of Alaa Abu Asad, Asli Hatipoglu, and Uno Fujisawa, attendees are encouraged to think about the stories surrounding invasive species, reflect on ancestral food practices, and embrace mindfulness in eating. We invite our guests to become aware of  and appreciate the intricate web of life that surrounds us, and think about the role that they themselves play in the cycle of life.